Vitamins are nutrients that our own body cannot produce but are necessary for life. We only get them from outside sources, usually food. But Vitamin D is unique that the sun is the best source.
In winter, when sun exposure is less, it is important to consider if we are getting adequate Vitamin D. Depending on the time of year and distance from the equator, 40 to 70% of people have inadequate D blood levels. While we can obtain this vitamin from food, the sun is a much better source.
Vitamin D and bones
Research studies—often controversial— are being published all the time regarding how many diseases could be worsened by inadequate Vitamin D. All experts agree that it is necessary for strong bones. In childhood, it is necessary to make the bones, and in middle and older age, Vitamin D is needed to avoid osteoporosis and brittle bones.
Other effects of low Vitamin D
Other studies suggest that low levels of Vitamin D may result in other harms, including a higher risk of cancer and depression. The latest study, presented at the recent European Congress of Endocrinology, showed a relationship between low levels and abdominal obesity. Other studies have shown correlations with multiple sclerosis, chronic lung disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and heart failure.
While the relationship between these diseases and low Vitamin D is controversial, all doctors agree that we need to protect our bones. Especially now, when people are using more sunscreen and minimizing their risk for skin cancer, Vitamin D deficiency is a real possibility.
Further, this vitamin is better absorbed with a fatty meal, and many people are eating less fat, so dietary intake for this vitamin is at risk as well.
Three sources of Vitamin D
It is actually difficult to get adequate amounts only from foods. Fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, are the best sources, but most people don’t eat enough to get an adequate vitamin intake. Some foods, such as milk and orange juice, may be fortified, but the levels of fortification are relatively low.
Similar to dietary sources, many people today are not getting enough sun exposure to uncovered skin to supply their needs. Of course there is a balance between the sun’s positive effects as a Vitamin D source vs. the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. There is no simple formula to determine how much time you need outside in the sun. It depends on the clouds, latitude, season, the time of day. To get a general idea, you need 15 to 20 minutes outside between 9 am and 3 pm, with much of your skin uncovered, to get an adequate dose of Vitamin D.
For most people, to ensure they get adequate Vitamin D, supplements are the best option. How much to take is controversial, but the consensus for children is 400 IU per day, and for adults, 600 to 800 IU (best taken with a fatty meal). Some medical associations are calling for even more, up to 1000 IU per day. Discuss this with your doctor. Sometimes a blood test to measure your D blood level is a good idea.
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